How to grow your own na­tive oak trees

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - HOMES -

The end of sum­mer be­gins the sea­son of acorn gath­er­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. It was once so im­por­tant to Na­tive Amer­i­cans the whole year piv­oted around the gath­er­ing and pro­cess­ing of th­ese nuts. Gath­er­ing isn’t just scoop­ing acorns into a bas­ket, it is the te­dious in­spec­tion of the ground for only the most per­fect ones. The rest were left for wildlife and to re­gen­er­ate the trees.

Th­ese seeds of the oak are large and easy to iden­tify. End­less groves of oaks in­clude Quer­cus agri­fo­lia on the coast to Quer­cus lo­bata in the val­leys and Quer­cus kel­log­gii in the higher el­e­va­tions. Th­ese as well as count­less other, less de­fined, some­times scrub species fill the rest of our wild land plant com­mu­ni­ties. As a re­sult we are awash in acorns this year after so much rain, and each one of them is the ge­n­e­sis of a new tree.

Grow­ing oaks from acorns is a great way to make new trees at no cost. Grow­ing with acorns gath­ered from lo­cal trees en­sures your trees are best adapted to the con­di­tions of your im­me­di­ate mi­cro­cli­mate. Its prog­eny will share the same traits for max­i­mized re­sis­tance to drought, pests and dis­ease. Acorns of the same species ob­tained else­where will grow well, but they may not be as vig­or­ous with­out the mi­cro adap­ta­tions.

By the time an acorn sprouts its first leaf, the tap root is two feet deep. This is an im­por­tant trait for an­chor­age and ac­cess to deep mois­ture be­fore that first long, dry sum­mer. When acorns are planted in con­tain­ers, the tap root hits the bot­tom in just weeks, then takes a sharp turn. If the acorn is planted di­rectly into out­door soil, the tap root is free to go deep from the start to en­sure max­i­mum drought re­sis­tance.

To grow your own na­tive oaks, gather only per­fect acorns in the fall right after they are shed by a lo­cal oak tree. Fresh­ness is key. Dis­card any that are small, light weight, dis­col­ored, cracks or holes in the shell. Tiny worm holes made by mag­gots not only con­sume the seed in­side, they later exit to in­fest the rest of the stored acorn crop.

Place the se­lected acorns in a plas­tic container and store in the re­frig­er­a­tor for the win­ter to sim­u­late dor­mancy. Ex­tend this early dor­mant stor­age as re­quired for your lo­cal gar­den­ing time­line. Be pre­pared to plant the acorns out in the late win­ter where it’s warm. Wait for early spring to sow when tem­per­a­tures out­doors be­gin to thaw in higher el­e­va­tions or where ground freezes.

About a month be­fore sow­ing time in your area, re­move the acorns from the reefer and put into a one gal­lon nurs­ery pot. You can add sand to re­tain mois­ture or sim­ply leave them as is where it is damp enough. Place the pot out­doors where it is ex­posed to sun and rain. Check the acorns every few days for hair­line cracks that in­di­cate ac­tiv­ity has be­gun.

A cracked acorn is ready to plant in ground im­me­di­ately to avoid de­hy­dra­tion. Plant the acorn ex­actly where you want the tree to live. Set it on its side at the bot­tom of a nar­row hole about six inches deep. A bulb plant­ing tool is per­fect for plant­ing a whole grove of trees in hard soil.

Mark the place where the acorn was planted with spray paint or a stake so the emerg­ing sprout isn’t tram­pled. Pro­tect the new shoot from deer and other wildlife with a two foot tall by 6 to 8 inch di­am­e­ter tube of chicken wire staked into place.

Sum­mer’s end be­gins the sea­son of acorn gath­er­ing. It is a bo­nanza for all who wish to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment or land­scape the yard with na­tive trees. Sell or do­nate your cracked acorns to fund rais­ers and Master Gar­dener plant sales. And though we may no longer be alive when the acorns be­come mighty oaks, an­other gen­er­a­tion will in­deed be there to ap­pre­ci­ate the shade.

ALL PHO­TOS COURTESY TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

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